Police urge Leeds parents to look out for these signs their children are being groomed by criminal gangs

Parents and carers in Leeds are being urged to look out for signs their children are being groomed by criminal gangs.

Wednesday, 14th April 2021, 6:00 am

West Yorkshire Police are raising awareness of Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) in a new campaign - a term which encompasses a number of crimes such as drugs, county lines and carrying weapons.

It comes as the Yorkshire Evening Post’s Saving Lives After Lockdown campaign highlights the impact of knife crime on Leeds communities, looking at ways to prevent an upsurge in incidents when restrictions are lifted.

Detective Chief Inspector Fiona Gaffney, from the Protective Crime Services Unit, said exploited children are often pressured into carrying weapons, or feel they need to carry a knife when tensions arise between gangs.

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West Yorkshire Police are raising awareness of Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) in a new campaign (Photo: PA Wire/Dave Thompson)

“Children and young people become really dependent on the organised criminal groups who exploit them”, Det Chief Insp Gaffney told the YEP.

“They carry weapons in order to, they perceive, protect themselves. They will take part in violent acts in order to have their standing within that organised criminal group established, or to try and get some traction for their credibility.

“What they don’t realise is that by doing this they are actually being exploited and becoming victims themselves.”

Specialist police officers in Leeds work closely with schools, Leeds City Council and youth offending services to identify young people at risk.

Detective Chief Inspector Fiona Gaffney said exploited children are often pressured into carrying weapons (Photo: Alan Simpson/PA Wire)

But lockdown has changed the way that children are exploited, Det Chief Insp Gaffney said, and some vulnerable children may have slipped through the net of support.

Gangs are increasingly operating through social media, mobile phones and gaming platforms and Det Chief Ins Gaffney urged parents to be aware of the signs of criminal exploitation.

She said: “Parents and carers of children are the first individuals who are likely to spot signs of grooming. The signs can be just of a naughty teenager, or someone who is just kicking out against authority.

“But if you notice multiple of these signs, then as a parent you need to be really aware”.

The YEP's Saving Lives After Lockdown campaign is highlighting the impact of knife crime on communities across Leeds (Photo: PA Wire/Katie Collins)

The signs that a young person could be involved in CCE, explained by Detective Chief Inspector Gaffney:

- A sudden change in attitude: They become secretive or disrespectful

- They start making lots of repeat journeys: Either local or further afield. You get evidence that they have been travelling, such as train or bus tickets, or talking about being in different places

- They go missing: They are found in places that you wouldn’t normally expect to find them, beyond school and immediate friendship groups

- They have more money: They can afford more expensive goods, phones or trainers

- Their appearance changes: Either they wear lots of expensive clothes, or they become dishevelled

- They have lots of new friends: Particularly friends who are frequently older than they are

- They become distant and show signs of depression

- They are secretive with technology: They have multiple mobile phones or online devices, they are not willing to discuss what they are looking at or what games they are playing.

‘We are not there to criminalise young people’

Det Chief Ins Gaffney stressed that police are there to support young people who are being exploited and urged parents to report the signs - either to police or to charities that support victims of CCE.

She added: “Young people may come across as offenders, because they are committing crimes, but frequently they are victims of exploitation.

“We are there to support our young people and not criminalise them.

“For our young people, the best thing we can do is to support them as a local partnership to make sure they are getting all that support to divert them away and bring them out of that exploitation - to make them realise they are victims and they are being used.”

Safer Schools Officers work across schools in Leeds and can help if you have concerns about your child.

If you know that someone is committing CCE but you would rather remain anonymous, you can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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